Query: Writing biography for a subject with an unknown death date

Lois Leveen Discussion

Dear Colleagues,

I realize that on this relatively new H-NET list, we have not yet had much sustained on-list discussion.  But I would be delighted to start a conversation regarding how folks have approached writing biography for a subject with an unknown death date.

I am slowly piecing together the biography of a nineteenth-century African American activist.  She lived in multiple cities/countries, engaged with a remarkable range of leaders, and did some amazing things.  Reconstructing her life involves many challenges, not the least of which is her penchant for using multiple different names.  And then, when she is still in her early thirties, I lose track of her entirely.  She may have died (though I have found no record of her death), or taken a new name.  I continue to look for any traces, but in the meanwhile, I wonder how others have approached this kind of challenge.

So, I'm hoping members of this list might share some thoughts, examples, etc. for how to craft a biography when the traces of the subject's life peter out without the certain ending of a known (or even an approximate) death date.

Best regards,


Lois Leveen, PhD